Many new mothers with fussy babies find themselves wondering if their own lives could influence how much their babies cry. A new study gives them part of the answer: Moms unhappy with their relationships and social support might be more likely to have colicky babies — while single mothers have the least fussy babies of all.
Published in the journal Child: Care, Health and Development, the study analyzed more than 3,000 women between the ages of 18 to 36 years who gave birth between January 2009 and April 2011 at 78 different hospitals in Pennsylvania. A team of researchers from Penn State University determined that 11.6 percent of the mothers reported their babies as having colic, which entails crying or fussiness for three or more hours each day.
Each of the women was asked about her own relationship happiness, general social support, and partner-baby support. The researchers found that, of the women in romantic relationships, those happier with their partners during and after pregnancy — who noted that their partners were supportive and helpful — were less likely to have colicky babies.
The researchers aren’t quite sure why the association exists, but senior study author Kristen Kjerulff, a professor of public-health sciences, suggested that perhaps babies cry less if their parents are happier. Additionally, she noted that mothers more content in their relationship might also not perceive a baby’s crying so negatively, and therefore not report it as colic.
The study had one very interesting finding: Babies of single mothers had the lowest rate of colic. The association isn’t “statistically significant,” the researchers state, but still noteworthy. These single mothers also reported having higher social-support levels, which suggests that social support plays a key role in reducing fussiness in babies.
“If you don’t have a partner you can still have lots of social support, lots of love, and lots of happy relationships, and all of that’s going to be better for the baby,” Kjerulff said in a statement. “Love makes a difference.”
The findings shouldn’t make any mother feel like her baby’s crying is her fault, the study authors added. “Mothers’ significant others have a role to play in reducing the burden of colic,” first study author Chandran Alexande, an assistant professor of pediatrics, said in the statement. “Society should avoid pinning the blame for colic on mothers’ competence, self-esteem, or depression.”